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Baker’s dozen: Thirteen questions for Dr. Hunter

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The purpose of today’s post is to ask Dr. Hunter thirteen questions regarding his views on human origins. I hope he will be gracious enough to respond. Without further ado, here they are.

1. Dr. Hunter, in your original article over at Darwin’s God, you put forward eleven arguments against the hypothesis that humans and chimps had a common ancestor, before going on to critique Professor S. Joshua Swamidass’s evidence for human evolution as “just another worthless argument,” which was “not about science,” but about metaphysics, and for that reason, “unfalsifiable.” Why did you subsequently revise your post, by deleting a key premise from your very first argument, and then deleting eight paragraphs which contained your sixth and seventh arguments? Do you now reject those arguments? Let me declare up-front that I have absolutely no wish to impute any bad motives to you for editing your own blog post. I just want to know where you stand, that’s all. (Curious readers may go here to see what the old version of Dr. Hunter’s post looked like, and here to view the new one. For more details, please see the Appendix below.)

You also assert that Professor Swamidass’s case for human evolution is based on metaphysical assumptions, rather than science. Bearing that in mind, I’d like to ask you the following questions.

2. Can you name a single branch of science which isn’t based on metaphysical assumptions, to at least some extent? For instance, don’t even the so-called “observational sciences” assume the reliability of induction – an assumption which is grounded in a metaphysical worldview of things (or substances) possessing determinate natures, which guarantee that they will behave in a uniform fashion? (Even if essentialism is dead in the biological realm, it continues to hold sway in the fields of physics and chemistry: lower-level entities such as molecules, atoms, sub-atomic particles and fields are still envisaged as having a fixed nature, which is the same at all times and places.)

3. That being the case, instead of trying to purge metaphysics from science, shouldn’t we focus on making our core metaphysical assumptions as simple, non-controversial and commonsensical as possible?

4. Do you accept that if hypothesis A readily explains an empirical fact F and hypothesis B does not, then F (taken by itself) constitutes scientific evidence for A over B? Or putting it another way, if a fact F is predicted by hypothesis A, and compatible with hypothesis B but not predicted by B, then do you agree that F constitutes scientific evidence for A over B? If not, why not?

5. Do you also accept that the hypothesis that humans and chimps share a common ancestor is not a hypothesis about mechanisms as such (or what Aristotle would describe as efficient causes) but rather, about material causes – i.e. the raw material from which the human body was originally derived, regardless of the process involved, with the “raw material” in this case being the body of the supposed common ancestor of man and chimp? What I’m saying here is that the hypothesis of common ancestry, taken by itself, is agnostic as to whether the human mind originally arose from matter, or whether human evolution was guided or unguided. Do you agree? If not, why not?

6. If you accept 4 and 5, then why do you not agree that the profound genetic similarities between humans and chimps constitute at least prima facie (scientific) evidence for the hypothesis of common ancestry? And why do you not agree that the discovery of fossil hominins such as Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo ergaster, which appear to be transitional in form, constitutes additional scientific evidence which bolsters this hypothesis, even if it’s incomplete evidence?

7. Am I correct in understanding you as claiming that there exists no scientific evidence whatsoever for the hypothesis that humans and chimps share a common ancestor, and that all of the arguments put forward for human evolution are in reality metaphysical arguments?

8. Do you claim that (a) it is impossible, in principle, to mount a purely scientific argument for the common ancestry of humans and chimps, or merely that (b) no-one has yet succeeded in putting forward such an argument?

9. If you chose (a), would you also agree that it is impossible, in principle, to mount a purely scientific argument for the human race (or the world) being more than 6,000 years old?

10. If you chose (b), then can you show me a purely scientific argument (devoid of metaphysical assumptions) for the various races of man sharing a common ancestor – and for that matter, for modern humans and Neanderthals sharing a common ancestor? If so, please specify.

11. If you chose (b), then what kind of scientific argument for humans and chimps having a common ancestor would satisfy you?

12. I’d like to draw your attention to the following quote from the young-earth creationist, Dr. Todd Wood, commenting on Dr. Fazale Rana and Dr. Hugh Ross’s demand, in their book, Who was Adam?, that before they recognize the evolution of humans and chimps from a common ancestor as an established fact, there would have to be “a clear evolutionary pathway from this supposed ancestor to modern human,” as well as hominid fossils documenting “the gradual emergence of the anatomical and behavioral traits that define humanity, such as large brain size, advanced culture, and the ability to walk erect,” with “transitional forms” readily discernible in the fossil record. Dr. Wood comments:

Given the spotty and fragmentary hominin fossil record, expecting any clarity for any model is unrealistic. Even if human evolution were true and the fossil record preserved wonderful and numerous fossils of every descendant of the hypothetical human/chimpanzee last common ancestor, there is no guarantee that we would be able to recognize any “clear” lineage from nonhuman to human.

Would you care to comment?

13. In the comments to one of your posts, you thanked a reader for linking to an article stating that the protein vitellogenin confers several beneficial effects upon bees, in addition to being used to make egg yolks. Humans possess a broken copy of the gene which makes this protein; they no longer need it. So my final question is: why do you not consider this gene to be vestigial – especially when Dr. Jeffrey Tomkins’s claim that the remaining gene fragments in human beings are functional has been soundly refuted by Dr. Dennis Venema?

I would also welcome readers’ comments on the questions I posed to Dr. Hunter.

A trip down history lane: the 1864 Declaration of Students of the Natural and Physical Sciences

In 1864, a group of young London chemists, led by a young chemist named Herbert McLeod (1841-1923) and calling themselves ‘Students of the natural and physical sciences’, put together a statement titled the Declaration of Students of the Natural and Physical Sciences, expressing their belief that “it is impossible for the Word of God, as written in the book of nature, and God’s Word written in Holy Scripture, to contradict one another, however much they may appear to differ,” and expressing their confident belief that “a time will come when the two records will be seen to agree in every particular.” The statement, which was published in 1865, attracted the signatures of 717 people (most of whom were scientists), including 86 Fellows of the Royal Society. James Joule and Adam Sedgwick were among its signatories. Other scientists, however, attacked the wording of the statement as divisive, and urged that it was high time to “let men of science mind their own business, and theologians theirs.” The most prominent critic of the Declaration was the British mathematician Augustus De Morgan, who argued in his work, A Budget of Paradoxes (section O), that scientists should not be called on to approve or disapprove, in writing, any religious doctrine or statement, and who put forward an alternative declaration of his own. What is remarkable, historically speaking, is that both documents fall afoul of what scientists now refer to as methodological naturalism. Even the alternative version put forward by de Morgan expressed a belief in the “Word of God, as correctly read in the Book of Nature,” as well as expressing “faith as to our future state.”

The dissenters from the 1864 Declaration of Students of the Natural and Physical Sciences carried the day, and by 1872, the Declaration was all but forgotten.

The Declaration read as follows:

We, the undersigned Students of the Natural Sciences, desire to express our sincere regret, that researches into scientific truth are perverted by some in our own times into occasion for casting doubt upon the Truth and Authenticity of the Holy Scriptures. We conceive that it is impossible for the Word of God, as written in the book of nature, and God’s Word written in Holy Scripture, to contradict one another, however much they may appear to differ. We are not forgetful that Physical Science is not complete, but is only in a condition of progress, and that at present our finite reason enables us only to see as through a glass darkly, and we confidently believe, that a time will come when the two records will be seen to agree in every particular. We cannot but deplore that Natural Science should be looked upon with suspicion by many who do not make a study of it, merely on account of the unadvised manner in which some are placing it in opposition to Holy Writ. We believe that it is the duty of every Scientific Student to investigate nature simply for the purpose of elucidating truth, and that if he finds that some of his results appear to be in contradiction to the Written Word, or rather to his own interpretations of it, which may be erroneous, he should not presumptuously affirm that his own conclusions must be right, and the statements of Scripture wrong; rather, leave the two side by side till it shall please God to allow us to see the manner in which they may be reconciled; and, instead of insisting upon the seeming differences between Science and the Scriptures, it would be as well to rest in faith upon the points in which they agree.

It strikes me that a creationist could conscientiously sign this Declaration, affirming a belief in the special creation of man, while at the same time acknowledging that the scientific evidence appears to contradict this view at the present time, but trusting nevertheless that at some future time, a resolution of this conflict of evidence will be found. To my mind, that sounds like a fine, manly position for a special creationist to take. I wonder what Dr. Hunter thinks of it. And what do readers think?

Is Dr. Hunter misreading Professor Swamidass?

In the course of his reply to my post, Dr. Hunter accuses Professor Swamidass of the following charges:

(a) dogmatically drawing conclusions when he states that the evolutionary story “is by far the best scientific explanation of our origins”;

(b) suggesting that microevolution is sufficient to explain the evolution of humans from a small, ape-like creature;

(c) adopting a scientist-versus-theologian, Warfare Thesis perspective, and demanding that theologians must adjust their sights, drop their denial, and grapple with the undeniable truths of evolution;

(d) writing in a confrontationist tone, by castigating as “lawyerly” those who would explain the similarities between humans and chimps by appealing to common “design”; and

(e) presenting a patronizing story in his article, in order to “reduce the fear some feel when encountering evidence that might contradict their understanding of the Bible.”

I believe that Professor Swamidass is innocent of these charges.

To begin with (e): in presenting the story of the 100-year-old tree, Professor Swamidass expressly states that his aim is simply to get theologians to acknowledge that “for some reason, God chose to create humans so that our genomes look as though we do, in fact, have a common ancestor with chimpanzees.” And that’s all. He then goes on to say: “If we allow for God’s intervention in our history, it is possible we do not share a common ancestor with apes. Adding God into the picture, anything is possible.” This is not patronizing, and it I certainly not an attempt to bulldoze theologians into accepting evolution.

Regarding (d), Swamidass does indeed use the term “lawyerly” to characterize those who would explain the similarities between humans and chimps in terms of common design. That’s because the explanation is too vague: it fails to account for the extraordinary fact that our DNA is only about 1.5% different from a chimp’s. Nevertheless, Swamidass’s tone is far from confrontationist, when he writes: “What design principle can explain why humans are 10 times more similar to chimpanzees than mice are to rats? No one knows.” He isn’t saying that an appeal to common design is wrong; rather, he’s saying that if it is true, it’s not the whole story. There must be some additional reason why we are so similar to chimps.

Regarding (c), it is important to note that Professor Swamidass repeatedly describes himself as a Creation Pacifist. He rejects the view that science and religion have to be at war with one another, as well as the condescending view that scientific truth trumps religious dogma. The Creation Pacifist movement which he belongs to includes people who are creationists. It would be utterly absurd to describe such a man as adopting a “Warfare Thesis” perspective.

Regarding (b), Professor Swamidass does not say that microevolution is sufficient to explain the evolution of humans from a small, ape-like creature. Rather, what he says is that the degree of similarity between humans and chimps puts them in the same Biblical “kind,” genetically speaking, and that microevolution explains the genetic similarities (but not necessarily the differences):

In fact, if “microevolution” (a concept many religious leaders affirm) can explain the similarity between rats and mice, it is reasonable to infer it explains the similarity between humans and chimpanzees. Genetically, humans and apes are the same “kind.”

Nowhere in his article does Professor Swamidass claim that the entire suite of differences (psychological, behavioral, morphological and genetic) between humans and chimps can be accounted for by random, step-by-step mutations. His article leaves open the question of how we became human.

Regarding (a), Professor Swamidass does indeed assert that the evolutionary story “is by far the best scientific explanation of our origins,” but he qualifies his assertion by inserting the word “scientific” in front of “explanation,” and by remarking: “Maybe this evolutionary story is false.” I would hardly call that dogmatic; would you?

Finally, let me quote an excerpt from a comment made by Professor Swamidass in response to a reader:

“Strong scientific evidence for common descent exists, but when taking God into account it is not definitive.” This is not a religious statement. It does not presume that evolution is true. And it does not end all our disagreements. And it should not be controversial.

That was all Professor Swamidass was really trying to say. It’s a real pity that some people took umbrage at his remarks.

APPENDIX: Dr. Hunter’s curious deletions

I mentioned above that Dr. Hunter had edited his original post on Darwin’s God, removing two of his eleven arguments and substantially watering down his first argument. Fortunately for readers, Dr. Hunter left another post online, which was virtually identical to his original post.

To see what Dr. Hunter’s original post looked like, readers can view his article, Stunning Evidence for Common Ancestry? S. Joshua Swamidass on the Chimp-Human Divergence over at Evolution News and Views. This article is virtually identical to Dr. Hunter’s original post over at Darwin’s God, except that: (a) the offensive last sentence of that post (“Like that old baseball card, it’s just another worthless argument”) is missing (and yes, I do think it’s “curtly dismissive” in tone); (b) the second paragraph has been split into two paragraphs; and (c) the heading near the end of the article has been changed, from “Swamidass arguments and evidences” to “Swamidass Explains?” One or two words in the post have also been changed.

Let me be quite clear: I’m not accusing Dr. Hunter of doing anything wrong here, in editing his original post. He has included a short note at the end of his revised post over at Darwin’s God: “Ed; Removed sentence about the orangutan, 1-Mb segments section, and the gene functionality section.” That’s fine. After all, it’s his blog, and he can edit it as he sees fit. For my part, I sometimes correct typos and sloppy wording on my own posts, especially within the first day after I publish them, although when I do amend my posts, I tend to expand them slightly, rather than deleting stuff.

However, I am very curious as to why Dr. Hunter dropped two of his arguments against human evolution from his original post, and weakened the force of another of his arguments by removing a key claim about orangutans. Why would he do that, if he actually believed those arguments? Or has he changed his views on the merits of those arguments? In that case, why doesn’t he just come out and say so?

Let me add that I have changed my mind in the light of new evidence, and openly acknowledged my errors on Uncommon Descent. My 2014 post, When I’m wrong, is a good example. Previously, I had put forward certain arguments (see here, here, here, here and here) against the neutral theory of evolution, which I later came to recognize as flawed, after an exchange of views with Professor Larry Moran.

Since I have publicly acknowledged my own mistakes on previous occasions, I would ordinarily expect other contributors to Uncommon Descent to do likewise, in similar circumstances. But I’m happy to let Dr. Hunter speak for himself.

Dr. Hunter’s original arguments

To help readers see what I’m talking about, here are the eleven arguments Dr. Hunter put forward in his original post, in summary form, along with my replies.

1. The genetic evidence cited in favor of common descent is not congruent with the other data: “in its morphology and behavior, the orangutan is closer to humans than the chimpanzee.”
[My reply: Dr. Hunter is probably relying on out-of-date 2009 paper by Grehan and Schwartz, which claimed that orangutans were morphologically closer humans than chimps were. However, another more recent study using a larger dataset found that chimpanzees are morphologically closer to humans than orangutans are (see also here.]

2. Mutations are random, and natural selection doesn’t help, either: “it cannot induce or coax the right mutations to occur.” According to Dr. Hunter, “this makes the evolution of even a single protein, let alone humans, statistically impossible.”
[My reply: this is an argument against evolution occurring purely via undirected processes. It is not an argument against common descent.]

3. Random mutations cannot create human consciousness, and evolutionary attempts to deny the reality of consciousness or explain it away as an “emergent property” are tantamount to anti-realism.
[My reply: this is an argument against materialistic theories of evolution. It is not an argument against common descent.]

4. It makes little sense that the relatively tiny genetic difference (1 or 2%) between human and chimpanzee DNA could be responsible the enormous design differences between the two species.
[My reply: this is incorrect. Scientists now know that the vast majority of genetic changes are either neutral or nearly neutral, whereas morphological changes (including the “design changes” referred to by Dr. Hunter) are often subject to natural selection, and are therefore either beneficial or deleterious. Neutral or nearly neutral mutations dwarf beneficial mutations in frequency, and the ratio of the former to the latter is not fixed. Hence the degree of genetic divergence between two species tells us nothing about how different they are, morphologically.]

5. To makes matters worse, according to the widely accepted neutral theory of evolution, the vast majority of the mutations occurring in the human line would have led to “neutral and slightly deleterious alleles.” Dr. Hunter comments: “This is no way to evolve the most complex designs in the world.”
[My reply: It has been calculated that out of the 22.5 million (mostly neutral) mutations that occurred in the human line, a mere 340 beneficial mutations would have been enough to turn the common ancestor of man and the chimp into a modern human being. The hypothesis of common descent does not specify whether these mutations were intelligently designed or not.]

6. What’s more, when evolutionists search for genes in the human genome that do show signs of selection, rather than neutral drift, they only find relatively unimportant ones: one 2005 study found only “genes involved in the sense of smell, in digestion, in hairiness, and in hearing.”
[My reply: Dr. Hunter is relying on outdated information here. A more recent 2013 paper by Capra et al. found that brain enhancers were actually the most common of the 773 developmental enhancers that they analyzed, in the non-coding human accelerated regions (ncHARs) of the human genome.]

7. If you look at large segments of DNA, corresponding in the human and the chimp, you find unexplainable variations in the chimp-human differences, which evolutionists can only explain away by resorting to a “then a miracle happened” hypothesis. Dr. Hunter remarks: “Under evolution there is no scientific reason, beyond hand-waving speculation, for such variations.”
[My reply: the differences in the rate of divergence which Dr. Hunter refers to are relatively minor. If we look at the median figures for chromosome pairs 1 to 22, we find that the genetic difference between humans and chimps varies from about 1.1% to a little under 1.4%, with an average overall difference of 1.23%. See also Professor Swamidass’s remarks on the subject here.]

8. According to Dr. Hunter, “The supposed divergence rate between chimps and humans … also has an unexplainable variation towards the ends of most chromosomes. This is another problem that seems to make no sense under evolution.”
[My reply: even near telomeres (the ends of chromosomes), the level of divergence between human and chimp DNA never gets above 2.1%, and elsewhere in the genome, it never falls below 1.0%. In other words, we’re talking about a two-fold variation in the rate at which the molecular clock ticks, in the worst possible case. This is hardly earth-shattering news. See also Professor Swamidass’s remarks on the subject here.]

9. Dr. Hunter writes: “This supposed divergence rate between chimps and humans also has an unexplainable variation that correlates with chromosomal banding. Again, this makes no sense under evolution.”
[My reply: neither evolution nor creation explains this observation well. In any case, it is fatal to neither theory. Dr. Hunter is making much ado about nothing. See also Professor Swamidass’s remarks on the subject here.]

10. Dr. Hunter observes: “The mouse-rat [genetic] divergence is about an order of magnitude greater than the chimp-human divergence. Yet the mouse and rat are much more [morphologically] similar than the chimp and human. It makes no sense under evolution.”
[My reply: there’s no correlation between the frequency of morphological changes and the frequency of genetic mutations. In the beginning, Darwinian evolutionists mistakenly assumed that the genetic difference between rats and mice would be small, because the morphological differences between these animals are slight. But we now know that the vast majority of the genetic differences between any two species are neutral or near-neutral mutations, which dwarf beneficial mutations by a factor of about 100,000 to 1 (see above: 340 beneficial mutations to 22.5 million neutral ones). Morphological differences, by contrast, are frequently caused by beneficial mutations, which are screened by natural selection.]

11. Finally, since mice and rats are supposed to have diverged long before humans and chimps did, and since mice and rats have a much shorter lifespan and generation time than chimps and humans, “one would conclude that the mouse-rat genetic divergence should be … at least two orders of magnitude greater than the chimp-human genetic divergence. But it isn’t.”
[My reply: Dr. Hunter’s figures are wrong. In reality, the neutral molecular clock ticks twice as fast for rats and mice as it does for primates. Multiply that by the three-fold difference between the 18-million-year-old mouse-rat divergence date estimated by evolutionists and the 6-million-year-old human-chimp divergence date, and you get an expected level of genetic divergence which is just six times greater – and not two orders of magnitude (or 100 times) greater, as calculated by Dr. Hunter. See also Professor Swamidass’s remarks on the subject here click on the hyperlink, “How does common descent explain the differences between chimps and humans?”]

Dr. Hunter’s amendments to his original post

Here’s the crucial sentence which Dr. Hunter deleted from his first argument against evolution, in his original poston his Darwin’s God Website:

Furthermore, in its morphology and behavior, the orangutan is closer to humans than the chimpanzee.

Take this sentence away, and the force of Dr. Hunter’s conclusion in that argument is vastly weakened: “Simply put, from an evolutionary perspective the genetic data are not congruent with the other data.” Why not, exactly?

And here are the eight paragraphs which Dr. Hunter deleted from his original post:

When evolutionists search for genes in the human genome that do show signs of selection, rather than neutral drift (again, under the assumption of evolution), they find only a limited repertoire of functionality. For example, one study found genes involved in the sense of smell, in digestion, in hairiness, and in hearing. In other words, evolution is suggesting that we differ from the chimp mainly in those functions. It is a silly conclusion and another problem for Swamidass to explain.

But that’s not all.

That 2005 paper also found a host of chimp-human comparisons that are nonsensical in evolutionary terms. In other words, if you are forced to interpret the genetic comparisons in terms of evolution, you end up with contradictions. For example, if you look at large segments of DNA, corresponding in the human and the chimp, you find unexplainable variations in the chimp-human differences:

Nucleotide divergence rates are not constant across the genome… The average divergence in 1-Mb segments fluctuates with a standard deviation of 0.25%, which is much greater than the 0.02% expected assuming a uniform divergence rate.

To explain these nonsensical findings evolutionists have to resort to a “then a miracle happened” hypothesis. The usual explanatory devices do not work, so they are left only with the claim that local variations in the mutation rate did it — which amounts to special pleading:

[W]e suggest that the large-scale variation in the human-chimpanzee divergence rate primarily reflects regional variation in mutation rate.

Under evolution there is no scientific reason, beyond hand-waving speculation, for such variations. This is the equivalent of epicycles in geocentrism and so we have yet another problem for Swamidass to address.

But that’s not all.

These arguments have now vanished without a trace and without an explanation. And I am left wondering whether Dr. Hunter still believes them or not.

But enough of that. What do readers think? Over to you.

Comments
VJT @330: Thanks, and I apologize if I misunderstood your prior comment. Let me just make sure I am understanding your position: 1- You would say that God actually observes/sees the future, rather than just having great predictive skills about what he anticipates will happen in the future? and
My choosing X at time t makes God aware that I choose X at time t.
2- You would agree that God is not the "cause" of choice X at time t, even though God "knows" choice X will occur?Eric Anderson
June 14, 2016
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Hi Eric Anderson, I think we may be in agreement after all. When you say that God can see the future, that's what I mean when I say that God knows human choices by timelessly observing them. Since He is an observer outside time, His knowledge of our choices is caused by the choices themselves. My choosing X at time t makes God aware that I choose X at time t.vjtorley
June 13, 2016
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VJT: Just to follow up, there is a logical way out of the problems with the ‘God-decides-contingent-events’ idea. Three actually. 1. Jettison the idea that God knows the outcome of contingent event. In other words, he isn’t omniscient. He could still be really smart and capable; just not omniscient. 2. God could “know” the outcome of these contingent events due to his great predictive skills, similar to the approach you are taking with human free will. It might still not rise to the level of omniscience. It might still not rise to the level of actual knowledge, but it might be the best he can do; and as long as it is as good as his predictive skill in the case of human free will, perhaps we could say that he “knows.” 3. Consider that God can actually see the future, in the sense of knowing the end from the beginning, outside of time. I realize you don’t currently hold to this, but it is a third possibility.Eric Anderson
June 13, 2016
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VJT @326: Thank you for your comments.
I have to respectfully disagree with your claim that knowledge has nothing to do with causation.
Just to be clear, I’m not arguing that knowledge has “nothing to do” with causation, in the sense that knowledge is always irrelevant. Certainly if I cause something, I know about it, for example. What I am arguing against is the proposition made by some that if God “knows” something then – by definition – he can be said to have “caused” it.
What it shows is that there is more to knowledge than merely having a belief that happens to be correct, even if that belief turns out to have some justification. Many philosophers would argue that in the absence of a causal link between the belief and the state of affairs it describes, there is no good reason to call that belief “knowledge.” (Mathematical truths are an exception, but here, I’m only talking about contingent, a posteriori truths.) Of course, a causal link is not a sufficient condition for knowledge: there are “wayward causal chains.” But it is a necessary one.
I have not spent a lot of time on it, but I don’t have a problem with the general thrust of the Case I Gettier Problem. There can be a causal link from A to B. I can even know about that causal link. And if that causal link is correct, then I have true “knowledge”, even in the sense of what you are describing. But the cause of B is not my knowledge. The cause is A. That is the point. I’m not arguing that merely having a belief is knowledge. There can be a complete, verified causal chain from start to finish. The point is that my knowledge of the causal chain is not the chain itself.
As far as I can tell, there are no valid cases of empirical knowledge which is non-causal.
Well, if we are talking about knowledge of the causation, then yes, I agree. However, it is unclear whether this is very helpful, as it seems a bit circular. After all, we can certainly have empirical knowledge (i.e., observation) of the existence of a phenomenon, but not know the cause of the phenomenon. But, yes, I agree with you that if we are making a claim about the cause of the observation, then our knowledge would have to include the cause of the observation.
I believe that God knows human choices not by causing them but by timelessly observing them.
Even if that human has only been around for a very short time? Does God know what a baby will do? :) It is indeed an interesting question whether God’s knowledge of the future is based only upon excellent predictive skills or whether he can actually see the future. The scriptures would seem to strongly suggest the latter (just one of dozens of examples being the Hazael experience Justin cited in his prior comment), but I recognize that some think God just has great predictive skills – probably a really fast computer and some excellent simulation software to help him out. :) I’m skeptical, but it is an interesting open question.
I can make no sense of the claim that God “just knows.” That sounds too much like magic to me, and in that case, I can’t see why it should be called knowledge at all.
Well, certainly if a being has actually seen the future, it should be called knowledge. What is it, if not knowledge? Indeed, he would know the future better than anyone else, including someone with great predictive skill. (Again, whether or not God can actually see the future is a separate question.)
Regarding other contingent events in the cosmos, I would say that God knows them by causing them. In other words, God decides which atoms in a radioactive sample will decay and which will not. I can’t see how else He could be said to know which atoms decay and which ones don’t, apart from determining the fact.
Well, that is a remarkable statement! I realize it flows from two propositions you are holding simultaneously in your mind: God “knows” the future, but God cannot “see” the future. It would be hard to think of a stronger God-of-the-Gaps approach to science. God decides which atoms will decay, God decides how many raindrops will fall, God decides all contingent events. This may help explain why you seem fine with the theistic evolution position (please correct me if I’ve misunderstood your position). Evolution can be random and contingent just like the most ardent atheistic evolutionist claims, because, after all, God decides which individual mutations will occur, which atomic reactions will happen, which particle ends up where. This is God-of-the-Gaps come home to roost with a vengeance. I sincerely hope I have misunderstood your position, but I’m not sure how else to understand your claim about God causing contingent events.
Nor do I think that the commonly heard claim that God knows everything because God IS Truth helps us at all.
Agreed. Saying that “God is truth” is not at all helpful. ----- After re-reading the above, I want to apologize for my undoubtedly brusque response. I’m just so astounded by the claim that God individually decides the outcome of all non-human contingent events in the cosmos that I am nearly at a loss for words. That claim seems to completely undercut any ability to draw a distinction between contingent and non-contingent events, between design and non-design, between the purposeless and the purposeful, between the ordinary course of natural events and God’s miraculous intervention. It seems, at a single blow, to eliminate both any principled way to understand the natural or to understand the miraculous.Eric Anderson
June 13, 2016
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Justin @325: Thank you for your thoughtful and gracious comments.
So I’m stuck. God very clearly saw this future of Hazael’s treachery. I do not and cannot assign any blame to God for this future even though He had ability to change it.
The example of Hazael is a good example of God’s knowledge of what would occur beforehand. And I agree with you that God should not be assigned blame for the future event. Here is the other kicker: Elisha (due to revelation from God) also knew the future and wept about it. He could have killed Hazael and prevented that future from happening, but he didn’t. He allowed it to proceed. Both Elisha and God knew the future, could have done something to change it, and didn’t. Yet we don’t say that God and Elisha were responsible for that future. There are many other examples in the scriptures of equivalent situations.
I’m saying that allowing a certain future among many contributes as part of the explanation why a certain event happens. Again, you are correct that “allowing” a certain future to occur does NOT cause the event in question. And again, I respond that I have this nagging feeling that the allowance did play a part.
I realize we’ve discussed this in great detail and that it probably just needs to percolate a bit, but if you’ll permit me two additional thoughts (perhaps restating prior points just for my own benefit of learning how to articulate them): First, it is true that in specific situations we might struggle to pinpoint the precise “cause” of an event. Indeed, a significant part of our legal system is devoted to determining causation: who was at fault, how much, what intervening events impacted the situation, was someone else involved, was person x more at fault than person y, and so on? As a general matter though, both in our regular use of language and our legal system, there is a recognized difference between affirmatively causing something and not preventing it. Only in those rare cases when there is a legally-imposed affirmative duty to prevent something would a person be liable for not preventing an event. And even in those cases, we would not say that the liable person “caused” the event; just that they failed in their affirmative duty to prevent it. There is a reason we have different terms for different states of action or inaction. There is a reason we spend lots of money and time and effort trying to differentiate between whether someone affirmatively caused something or whether they just stood by and allowed it to happen. We should not conflate the two. This is why I have focused some of my attention in this thread on a couple of commenters who argued, in essence, that knowing of an event means you caused it. It doesn’t. Second, let me offer a fun example. This very issue comes up regularly with my kids, and I sometimes play a little logic/word game with them. For example, one of the kids might see the front door open and say, “Who left the door open.” I’ll reply, “You did.” When they look at me puzzled or start protesting that they didn’t, I’ll add, “And I left it open. Mom left it open. Everyone left it open.” Then they quickly realize I am not accusing them of anything, just pointing out that, up to that moment, we had all left it open. There are lots of similar situations. Much of the point is to teach them that they do have a choice in that situation to change the state of affairs (they can close the door and move on), and that it may not matter so much who “caused” the situation if they can easily and quickly rectify it. That is the parenting point. But the broader logical point also holds: The answer to the following two questions is both linguistically and logically different: “Who spilled this milk on the floor?” versus “Who left this spilled milk on the floor?”
My Lazarus example was trying to show how God lets events happen and then intervenes when necessary. Not an example of experimenting.
Thanks for the clarification. Agreed.
I had no intention implying that God caused Lazarus’s death because of His knowledge.
Of course not. Because knowledge does not mean causation They are separate things. :)
I didn’t mean to support the TE position that God works secretly and undetectably. I think scripture is full of examples of God working behind the scenes that aren’t clear to us until later on. Joseph being sold into slavery and taken to Egypt is an example.
Agreed. The problem with some versions of the theistic evolution position is not just the idea that “God works in mysterious ways,” so to speak – most theists would hold to that. The problem is that they are claiming in the case of evolution that God worked either (a) in a way that is scientifically undetectable (which means, we might be forgiven for pointing out, there is no evidence for the claim), or (b) through purely natural and material processes that don’t require God to do anything anyway.
Your post in 324 does not help me here because I agree with what you are saying. I would just substitute all your words “knowledge” with “prediction”. When I turn on my light switch, it looks like I have knowledge, but it’s really a very strong prediction based on my knowledge of systems as you say.
That’s fine. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about excellent predictive capabilities or actual “seeing-the-future” kind of knowledge. The point is separating the knowledge from the causation. Thanks to your good bible study instructor and Hazael, I’m glad you’re on board with that. :) ----- Just to bring it full circle, the issue here, as it relates to the theistic evolution proposals, is that they posit either: (a) some kind of intelligent designing intervention, which means they aren’t talking about “evolution” as normally understood, or (b) a purely naturalistic and materialistic evolutionary process that can do it all, in which case God is superfluous and there is no point (scientifically, logically, or practically) in invoking his involvement. I realize you may not be arguing for these things, and I’ve appreciated your willingness to exchange views on related concepts. However, this is the heart of the theistic evolution problem, which is the primary thing I’m trying to address. Thanks again for the valuable exchange. I hope you'll continue to chime in on other threads as time permitsEric Anderson
June 13, 2016
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Hi Eric Anderson, I have to respectfully disagree with your claim that knowledge has nothing to do with causation. You write:
I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m having a hard time understanding why some can’t separate in their minds the very basic concepts of knowledge and causation. The only reason why your claim about God having some kind of limitation on his knowledge or the alleged causal link with the “first” kind of knowledge you refer to – the only reason this even sounds good on its face at first blush, is because you conflated definitions at the outset – equating, by definition, prior knowledge with causation.
If you want to understand where I'm coming from, consider the Gettier problem, which I'm sure you're familiar with. What it shows is that there is more to knowledge than merely having a belief that happens to be correct, even if that belief turns out to have some justification. Many philosophers would argue that in the absence of a causal link between the belief and the state of affairs it describes, there is no good reason to call that belief "knowledge." (Mathematical truths are an exception, but here, I'm only talking about contingent, a posteriori truths.) Of course, a causal link is not a sufficient condition for knowledge: there are "wayward causal chains." But it is a necessary one. Knowledge based on human testimony creates no problems for a causal account of knowledge. If Tom tells me he saw a car accident, and I know (from my own past experience) that Tom never lies, then I know he saw a car accident. Likewise, if I know from past observation that falling bodies always accelerate at a certain rate, and if I also know from present observation that a body B is falling, I can be said to know how fast B will traveling when it hits the ground. As far as I can tell, there are no valid cases of empirical knowledge which is non-causal. You also write:
So you don’t believe that God can see the end from the beginning, as is often claimed in theological circles? He, being omniscient, isn’t capable of that kind of knowledge? Furthermore, by the fact of having power over his creation, he is then stripped of predictive knowledge? That seems rather strange. Perhaps most troubling in this kind of philosophy, God is also personally and inexorably responsible for causing every contingent event in the universe.
I believe that God knows human choices not by causing them but by timelessly observing them. I can make no sense of the claim that God "just knows." That sounds too much like magic to me, and in that case, I can't see why it should be called knowledge at all. Regarding other contingent events in the cosmos, I would say that God knows them by causing them. In other words, God decides which atoms in a radioactive sample will decay and which will not. I can't see how else He could be said to know which atoms decay and which ones don't, apart from determining the fact. And while I think humans have God-given free will, the atoms in a radioactive sample do not. Nor do I think that the commonly heard claim that God knows everything because God IS Truth helps us at all. Whatever God is, He is necessary. Therefore He cannot be identical with any contingent proposition, let alone one relating to a contingent (and possibly evil) human choice. As one Thomist philosopher memorably put it: "God determining or determined; there is no alternative."vjtorley
June 13, 2016
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EA @ 323 and @324 Good thoughts and I would like to respond to several. Plus I just had my “view” very challenged after going to church today. First let me respond to your comments. You seem to dismiss the “God allowing something” has no affect or in no way relates to the cause of an event. In my five future scenario example, you conclude that the fact that God chooses one of them has no bearing on the event we are examining. Ok, technically you are right. God was not the perp in any of these scenarios no matter what is chosen. But this technically, clinically correct statement still fights against our (my) instinct that somehow God’s allowance played a role in the outcome. I don’t think we can debate this point any further. Here’s something else you should consider. When many people have this crazy idea that knowledge = or could be part of causation, I wouldn’t dismiss it as utter nonsense or absurd (I think I’ve read these words in your posts). That’s too strong, don’t you think? I just sounds a little too confident when speaking of things we are just barely trying to grasp. You mentioned in 323 that you think I’m stuck on the idea that if God had power to do something then He caused it. I do not think that. I’m saying that allowing a certain future among many contributes as part of the explanation why a certain event happens. Again, you are correct that “allowing” a certain future to occur does NOT cause the event in question. And again, I respond that I have this nagging feeling that the allowance did play a part. But like I said, I don’t think we can debate this further. My Lazarus example was trying to show how God lets events happen and then intervenes when necessary. Not an example of experimenting. I had no intention implying that God caused Lazarus’s death because of His knowledge. I don’t have much thought about your objection to God causing things to happen that look to us as contingent or law-like. I didn’t mean to support the TE position that God works secretly and undetectably. I think scripture is full of examples of God working behind the scenes that aren’t clear to us until later on. Joseph being sold into slavery and taken to Egypt is an example. Your post in 324 does not help me here because I agree with what you are saying. I would just substitute all your words “knowledge” with “prediction”. When I turn on my light switch, it looks like I have knowledge, but it’s really a very strong prediction based on my knowledge of systems as you say. So I think we are in agreement here. In none of these examples do we truly know the future. Ok, now for my lesson at church today. I thought it might be interesting because it relates to the topic at hand. We studied 2 Kings 8 (juwilker paraphrase version) where the sick king of Aram, Ben-Hadad, sends his right hand man Hazael to inquire of the prophet Elisha whether he will recover from his sickness or not. Hazael inquires, and Elisha says to him that the king will recover, but you will murder him. And Elisha wept because God had shown him that Hazael would become king and would burn down Israelite cities, kill men with the sword, dash children on stones, and rip open pregnant women. And Hazael responds, “who me? I’m just a simple man” So I’m stuck. God very clearly saw this future of Hazael’s treachery. I do not and cannot assign any blame to God for this future even though He had ability to change it. It doesn’t look there are multiple futures (the gazillion futures). Maybe there is just one future in play. I’m forced to say that God can see the future (not just create it due to his power). As I was in church today, I was thinking “God were you reading my recent posts at UD?” I’ll end this post with saying that I’m just a small mind trying to understand big things. Justinjuwilker
June 12, 2016
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Justin, BTW, I was thinking about this a bit more today, and I believe there is a way to examine this in terms of simple, short-term future events, in order to pin down the issue. I've mentioned this point previously, but want to home in on it for a moment to underscore the point. Although we may not have long-term predictive capability, nor do we have unlimited power, there are innumerable instances in our life in which we know what will happen in the immediate future as a result of a particular action. We know these things -- if not with "seeing the future" certainty (which you suggest cannot exist anyway, so shouldn't be an issue from your point of view), then at least with predictive knowledge that rises to an extremely high level of likelihood approaching certainty. For example, based on both my experience and my knowledge of the electrical wiring in my house, I know that when I walk in my office and flip the switch up the light will go on. I know that when I pull on the fridge handle that the fridge door will open. I know that when I drop a pen, it will fall to the floor. This is so simple, so everyday, so obvious, that I fear a fundamental issue may be missed if we don't take time to consider the matter carefully. It is helpful to think about these incredibly mundane and simple examples. Thousands of them occurring every single day, as we go to work, drive our car, prepare a meal, pick an item off the floor, and on and on. Here is the principle at work: As beings who act and have the ability to choose, we are constantly acting based on our understanding of cause and effect and based on our ability to influence the future. We are constantly acting based on our knowledge of the future state that will result from our actions. Indeed, the very nature of our being as intelligent agents is based on this principle of choosing to take certain actions to make something happen. Even the very etymology of the word "intelligent" means to choose between contingent possibilities. So throughout our day, all day, every single day, we are constantly doing things with knowledge of what will result in the future as a result of that choice. Can we see far into the future? No. Is our ability to influence the future absolute? Of course not. But the very essence of our nature as individuals, our very being as intelligent agents, means that we are constantly taking actions with knowledge of what will happen in the future as a result of those actions. So it is possible to know the future with a high degree of certainty, at least in specific cases. Now, one question remains: does my knowledge of the future mean that I caused that future? Not necessarily. If my wife flips the light switch, or opens the fridge door, or drops the pen, I will know with exactly the same amount of certainty what will happen when she takes the action, as I did when I was about to take the action. I know because of past experience, because of my knowledge of the systems in question, and my other background knowledge. That is why I know. Not because I was the one doing the action or causing the effect. The key to knowing the future is my knowledge of the systems in question, not whether I happen to be the one performing the action. ----- Again, these are incredibly simple examples. I have cited them purposely. Without breaking a sweat we could think of another hundred examples, because we are absolutely inundated by them -- to the point where we take them for granted and miss the forest for the trees. I'm confident if you take some time to think through the broader implications of fundamental principles like free will, intelligent agency, choice, and action generally, two things will become clear: (a) it is possible for me to know, with at least a very high degree of certainty, some future events that will occur, and (b) my knowledge of that future state is based on my understanding of the systems in question, not on whether I am the one causing it.Eric Anderson
June 12, 2016
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Justin @322: Thank you for your thoughtful comments, as always.
EA, again I thank you for making me think about these issues. Your posts in 317 and 320 are arguing against a case that I’m not making. I’m not saying you are setting up a strawman, because I can see how you might be thinking that I’m advancing a certain argument. Basically, I think you are saying that I believe that if something happens God caused it all. . . . If it rains, why? God caused it. If the rock falls, God caused it etc. I’m not saying this. I hope I’m not implying this conclusion.
I apologize if I gave the impression that was directed at you. It was addressing a specific approach taken by a couple of other commenters earlier in the thread who argued precisely that: God’s knowledge of future events means, by definition, that God caused the event. That is what I was addressing in those comments, because I view that as utter nonsense.
I am saying a couple of things. First, your assumed “knowledge does not equal causation” position is just that: an assumption when applied to the future. You are very sure the two concepts are very different for present and past events. And I agree. But when we go to TEL and start talking about how knowledge and power function, it’s all inference.
I’m glad you agree for past and present. However, the future is not simply an assumption. At the very least it is an inference based upon innumerable experiences with the past and present, coupled with no logical reason to think the future is any different. However, I think it is even stronger than that. You have quoted scriptures to some effect, but seem to ignore the doctrine of God seeing the end from the beginning. That’s fine. As I said, my purpose isn’t to convince anyone about any particular version of God. But it is a little convenient to ignore that common view and instead hold precisely the opposite view: that God cannot know the future. Setting aside possible views on God, there are examples from our own lives (given in some earlier comments in the thread), that demonstrate, or at least give us reasonable reason to believe, that we can have some limited knowledge of immediately future events. And at least in those cases it is clear that our knowledge of those events doesn’t mean we caused them. Regarding your example about possible futures and Person C getting killed or maimed, you are rather close to the mark in what the back-and-forth exchange would be. So rather than revisiting that, let me just cut to the chase: The reason you are disputing the distinction between knowledge and causation in the future is because you are setting up the argument @317. So in retrospect maybe that comment should have been directed at you after all! :) You seem to be stuck on this idea that if God could have done something or had the power to do something, then we have to say he “caused” the outcome. That is the real disconnect. I don’t think it has so much to do with future vs past/present in your mind; it appears it has to do with your concept that because we are dealing with God and because he has power to influence events, then whatever happens was “caused” by God. My rebuttal of that line of thinking has less to do with assumptions about thought experiments in the future and more to do with basic logic and basic use of the English language.
Second, I’m proposing that God is NOT causing all of these things we see. He’s letting contingent events happen, freewill agents choose, and intervening at His choosing.
Agreed.
And He’s causing some events that look either contingent or law-like to us.
Based on what? This is the heart of the problem with most of the theistic evolution claims: some secret, hidden, behind-the-scenes intervention that is utterly undetectable to us. Well, that might be a nice philosophical or religious position, but from an investigative, scientific perspective it is useless – by definition we can never have evidence of it. Plus, it suffers from the other practical and logical problems I’ve detailed previously.
Let me point to a famous New Testament scripture to get this idea across: (quoted from the Juwilker paraphrase version) “Jesus, Lazarus is dead, if you had only come a couple of days earlier he would not have died. Jesus responds, “ok, let me fix that problem.””
I like your paraphrase. :) Except that the scripture clearly states that Jesus already knew Lazarus was dead before he went to Bethany. And presumably Jesus didn’t kill him – there’s that old ‘knowledge doesn’t equal causation’ again. :) Furthermore, the scripture is pretty clear that Jesus purposely tarried until Lazarus was dead before going to Bethany, “that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” In other words, so that this singular miracle of all miracles – raising someone from the dead – could be demonstrated to His close associates and to others willing to listen. The Lazarus experience is definitely not an example of God “experimenting along the way.” However, I agree with you that it is an example of letting contingent events run their course and then intervening -- very precisely, specifically, and purposefully -- if and when he chooses.
I’m proposing that God not seeing a gazillion futures and picking from among them (I like Occam’s razor here).
Could be you are right.
He’s not seeing the movie played from beginning to end; because if the movie has been cast and produced already, then I join Pinker’s group that freewill is illusion
Sorry, but that doesn’t follow. Again, seeing is not the same as causing. This falls right back into the logical and linguistic trap of thinking that they are the same thing.
I think the movie is being cast as we go. And I believe God is experimenting along the way. The Genesis Flood comes to mind.
Perhaps. Definitely an intriguing thought.Eric Anderson
June 11, 2016
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Phinehas @ 315, EA @ 317 and @320 Thank you for the responses and questions. I’ve had life/work hit me this last week so not as much blog time as I would like. In fact, I still have some things to get done now, but I wanted to respond to these questions. I really do enjoy our exchange of ideas. Phinehas, the reason I have problems applying the supposed axiom “Knowledge does not equal causation” to future events but can easily apply it to present and past events is because to me, the future is thought experiment and past/present are reality. They are two different beasts so to speak. The past and present are part of my reality. Cause, effect, knowledge, allowance, omission, commission and other words (which EA kindly asks us all to keep our definitions from getting mixed up) we use to describe why something happens are more clearly defined for past and present events. Once we move into the future, we are in Thought Experiment Land (TEL). I love to visit TEL, I’m not denigrating it. But TEL relies more heavily on inference. The past and present rely on inference too, but not nearly as much. So when we see something or figure out something from our reality (past and present) I don’t think it so easy applies when we enter TEL. We are speculating how something might work if someone knew the future. But its just speculation. We don’t know. We have reports of people with psychic power who claim to see the future. Maybe true, but it hasn’t been established in my mind. And when we enter TEL, I don’t think disassociated link between knowledge and causation is clear. So when I see people axiomatically (yes I’m using this provocative word on purpose) claim that knowledge does not equal power (which they believe because of their experienced reality) when applied to the future, I am pointing out that this is not necessarily fact, but an inference. EA, again I thank you for making me think about these issues. Your posts in 317 and 320 are arguing against a case that I’m not making. I’m not saying you are setting up a strawman, because I can see how you might be thinking that I’m advancing a certain argument. Basically, I think you are saying that I believe that if something happens God caused it all. [By the way, to our atheist friends who might be reading this post might criticize me for assuming that God is a real person when in your mind God is a figure from TEL. Yes, God is an inference, but so strong in my mind that the inference is reality]. If it rains, why? God caused it. If the rock falls, God caused it etc. I’m not saying this. I hope I’m not implying this conclusion. I am saying a couple of things. First, your assumed “knowledge does not equal causation” position is just that: an assumption when applied to the future. You are very sure the two concepts are very different for present and past events. And I agree. But when we go to TEL and start talking about how knowledge and power function, it's all inference. Remember the example about the five possible live futures and God choose one of them? The fact that God chose one of them was PART of the outcome (Person C gets killed or maimed etc). Perhaps not the full cause, but part. We are just speculating. You might rebut “no, person B who maimed person C is the “cause”, not God”. Well, you have a point, but you can’t conclude that God’s knowledge had nothing to do with the outcome. Again you might rebut, “no, knowledge is different from allowance that’s why we have two different words. Ok, you are right we have two different words, but that doesn’t change the fact that allowance (which I could also argue is a choice in my five multi-future example from TEL) was definitely part of the outcome. Second, I’m proposing that God is NOT causing all of these things we see. He’s letting contingent events happen, freewill agents choose, and intervening at His choosing. And He’s causing some events that look either contingent or law-like to us. Let me point to a famous New Testament scripture to get this idea across: (quoted from the Juwilker paraphrase version) “Jesus, Lazarus is dead, if you had only come a couple of days earlier he would not have died. Jesus responds, “ok, let me fix that problem.”” I’m proposing that God not seeing a gazillion futures and picking from among them (I like Occam’s razor here). He’s not seeing the movie played from beginning to end; because if the movie has been cast and produced already, then I join Pinker’s group that freewill is illusion. I think the movie is being cast as we go. And I believe God is experimenting along the way. The Genesis Flood comes to mind. Anyway, I hope that helps further explain what I’m proposing. I’ve probably made a bunch of logic errors and you are probably going to point out many flaws in my arguments. And I look forward to correction and understanding. Justinjuwilker
June 11, 2016
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I should add that there is still one area in which reasonable minds could differ and I sincerely hope that some theistic evolutionists are in this category. Specifically, if I acknowledge #2 above (material processes are insufficient and a creative influence is required), it might still be the case that I could think the creative influence has not yet been detected. This really amounts to more of an "I don't know" response to the question of design in biology. The individual could be open to the possibility that design is required and that material processes are insufficient -- might even strongly suspect that design is required, but might think that design has not yet been demonstrated. Depending on the details of their argument, I could possibly intellectually respect someone who takes such a view: that although design detection is possible in biology the case for design hasn't yet been made strongly enough. From an evidentiary standpoint, that is blatantly wrong. But from a purely logical standpoint, it is a possible coherent position for someone to take, at least temporarily while they continue to examine the evidence. What I cannot intellectually respect is someone who argues that design detection is not possible in biology in principle, because, they argue, we must adhere to methodological naturalism, or design cannot apply to biology, or we can only consider human design, or God acts undetectably behind the scenes, or design isn't "science," or other similar red herrings designed to deflect attention from the real issues. Unfortunately, I have heard precious few individuals make the prior argument (and those few who have challenged the adequacy of the design inference have, sadly, typically thrown up other objections of their own that belie their lack of intellectual integrity on the issue). Most people, including Professor Swamidass on recent threads and many others, seem to fall into the intellectual trap of the latter group: arguing that design detection in biology is simply not palatable or acceptable for one red herring reason or another.Eric Anderson
June 8, 2016
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StephenB: Quite right. If the position is taken that (a) intelligent intervention is real, but (b) it is impossible to detect, then we end up with a completely unprincipled way of determining causation, which results in all manner of absurdities. The theistic evolution chain of thought goes something like this: Q: What caused evolution to produce, say, human beings? A: God caused it by tweaking things behind the scenes (or the other irrational proposal, made in the last few days on these pages, God knows the outcome, therefore God caused the outcome). Q2: Can we detect God's designing influence? Can we detect the design? A2: No. The process appears to be a purely naturalistic and materialistic process. God is there, behind the scenes, driving things to his end goal, but to us it appears to be just the random interactions of matter and energy. ----- The above line of thinking seems to be what some people are adopting. Yet it completely abandons the ability to determine causation in the world and results in patent absurdities. Q: What caused the rain to fall this morning? A: God did it. It might appear to us like it was just purely natural causes, but God was working behind the scenes in a manner that is undetectable to us. Q: Why did Bob win the lottery? A: God was operating behind the scenes to make it happen. Q: Why did the rock that was dislodged from the top of the hill end up at the bottom of the hill? A: God did it! He can see what is going to happen beforehand, and therefore causes it to happen through his immutable will. Even though the rock rolling down the hill appears to us to be the result of purely natural processes, God is really working behind the scenes to make it happen. Any needed explanation, any search for causation, can just be chalked up to God's spooky action at a distance or to God's immutable will. It is the ultimate God-of-the-Gaps fallacy come home to roost with a vengeance. Furthermore, as soon as we posit that God is acting invisibly behind the scenes without opportunity for detection, then there is no principled way to distinguish between the cause of, say, (a) the specific sequence of nucleotides in DNA required to produce a bacterial flagellum, and (b) a rock rolling down a hill. Our God-did-it "explanation" becomes a completely useless and superfluous addition to the apparent naturalistic cause. There are two ways out of this intellectual mess, as it relates to evolution: 1- Acknowledge that if a purely natural and material process is sufficient for creating us, then there is no need for a creator; or 2- Acknowledge that a purely natural and material process is insufficient for creating us and that a creative influence was required.Eric Anderson
June 8, 2016
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Eric, I should probably clarify the last sentence to mean that there is no decisive indirect causality involved in the process since it is the tweaking that is ultimately responsible for insuring that the outcome matches the Creator's apriori intent.StephenB
June 8, 2016
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Eric, one last point with respect to alternative (c) and the changing definition of randomness. According to evolutionary scientists, [a] randomness means purposelessness and without aim, which means that [b] the evolutionary process is open-ended and capable of producing many possible outcomes, which means that [c] the final outcome is indeterminate--that is—unspecified, which means that [d] any appearance of design is an illusion. If my analysis is correct, then illusory design is the logical result of randomness as purposelessness. What sense to it make, therefore, for the Theistic Evolutionist to retain the conclusion (illusory design) while rejecting the premise (purposelessness) that produced that same conclusion. Wouldn't the rational solution be to reject both the premise and the conclusion (Neo-Darwinism) and at least be open to the prospect that design is both real and detectable? As it is, they are trying to prop up the old conclusion (illusory design) with a new premise (randomness as correlation). It is this strained formula, it seems to me, that prompts them to posit a designer hiding behind the scene. Yes, unlike the guided vs unguided model, it is logically possible, but is it any less bizarre? With that model, the evolutionary process is not even responsible for the outcome, since it is the tweaker behind the process that is calling the shots. It's all direct Divine action. There is no indirect secondary causality, which is the very idea upon which they hang their hat.StephenB
June 8, 2016
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Phineas @315: Good questions. It isn't quite clear to me yet whether the disconnect comes because of the future nature of the knowledge or whether something else is causing the stumbling block. For example, some seem hung up on the idea that if someone could do something (has the ability or "power" to do something), then that individual must have been involved. It doesn't make any sense, but the thinking seems to flow kind of like this: - Assume God is the creator we are talking about. - God is also omnipotent. So God can do whatever he wants. - Since the future turned out to be x, it must be according to God's will, because otherwise he would have done something to change it. - If it is according to God's will, then we might as well say that he "caused" it. ----- This isn't the only way to arrive at a wrong conclusion, but it seems to be one of the lines of thinking we are dealing with. Another one that VJT proposed (I don't know if he holds to it or was just putting it out there as an option) was more simple, and was really based on a semantic mistake that just defined knowledge as being inextricably linked with causation. Hopefully someone will respond to your question with a clear explanation of their chain of thinking.Eric Anderson
June 7, 2016
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Ted Davis @314: Thanks for the kind reply. I appreciate you taking time to weigh in with your busy schedule and hope your travels go well. The approach in what you are calling (c ) is absolutely an option. But it not really a separate category logically. Let's assume, as you suggest, that someone like Gingerich, Russell, Polkinghorne, or Barr were to argue that the right way to understand randomness is not really the same kind of "randomness" that the materialist evolutionist typically refers to, and that this new-found understanding of randomness allows someone to be in charge of the evolutionary process behind the scenes in a way that would not be possible with the more popularly-understood materialistic concept of "randomness." Is that a potential, rational approach to the problem? Sure. We could probably debate the merits of their claim, dive deep into what "randomness" really is, and spill barrels of ink on the precise definition of the word "random." But to claim that the evolutionary process is not really random in the traditional materialistic sense, rather, it is random in a sense that allows a creator to intervene behind the scenes is at least a rational approach. So the question then is, what do we make of such a proposal? Let's assume, just for purposes of discussion, that this proposal is absolutely true -- that evolution is not really random in a traditional materialistic sense, but is "random" in some other sense that allows for outside guiding intervention. Great. I don't have a problem with someone proposing that. I might be very skeptical, but they are certainly free to propose such a definition of "random" and perhaps they are even right. In which case, as I have been pointing out all along, they do not support or hold to the traditional concept of evolution. Instead, they are proposing some kind of guided, purposeful evolution -- one with intelligent input and intervention. So if Gingerich, Russell, Polkinghorne, Barr or anyone else were to stand up and say, clearly and unambiguously, "I disagree with the standard model of evolution, I don't think it works, I think the origin and development of life on Earth required the guiding intervention of an intelligent creator" -- if they were to stand up and say that, I would reply: "Congratulations! Thank you for being upfront and for acknowledging the need for a creator. We are absolutely on the same page in this regard." Now, I would also go on to ask them whether their claim of creative intervention is based on scientific analysis or is just a personal religious/philosophical preference. Specifically, I would ask (a) why they think purely natural and material processes are insufficient to account for all of life and why intelligent intervention is required, and (b) if they are correct that intentional design is present in the history of life, is there any way that we could detect it? If they respond with even a rudimentary understanding of the need for complex specified information, integrated functional structures, the probabilities involved in building a living organism, then I would wholeheartedly welcome them as full-fledged intelligent design proponents. :) If, however, they respond with roadblocks or smoke and mirrors assertions about the great virtues of methodological naturalism, with some narrow definition of "science" that does not consider intelligent causation, with some arbitrary refusal to consider design in biology even though it is routinely considered in other fields -- if they respond with those kinds of answers, then we would know that something other than intellectual honesty is at play, some other motive that is preventing them from following the evidence where it leads, even evidence from their own proposal. ----- I would hope they would take the former approach and stand up for the role of intelligent design in the history of life on Earth. If they do, please let me know, and I will be the first one to stand up and support them as well.Eric Anderson
June 7, 2016
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As others have pointed out, knowledge and causation are not the same thing. This is trivial to see for past events. I know lots of things that happened in the past that I didn't cause. It is also trivial for current events. There are things happening around me right now about which I possess knowledge, but still I am not the cause of these things. It is only when considering knowledge about future events that people appear to get hung up. For those who do, can you explain what it is about knowledge of future events that suddenly makes it causal when it is quite obvious that knowledge of past and current events is completely separate from causality? How does future knowledge function so very differently from past or current knowledge?Phinehas
June 6, 2016
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For Eric Anderson @299: Regrettably I'm on the road this week with almost no time to interact with you, as much as I might like to. My reply will be (perhaps inadequately) brief. You said, "As has been pointed out clearly above in this thread, the options are somewhat limited in logical scope: either (a) adopt a definition of evolution that is different than what nearly every textbook, professional association, and evolutionary scientist uses, or (b) push the creator far enough back in time and interaction as to be essentially irrelevant to the “scientific” enterprise.? I say, perhaps there is also (c) adopt a mathematically precise definition of "random," revealing that those biologists you refer to in (a) are going well beyond the mathematics in their overall interpretation of evolution, when they say that it means no one is in charge of the process. That's the approach taken by people like Gingerich, Robert John Russell, John Polkinghorne, or Steven Barr--all of them experts in physics, where a mathematically precise definition of "random" is more likely to be found, since physicists are in general more learned in mathematics than biologists and they have used stochastic models successfully for an enormous range of natural phenomena. Unfortunately, when Barr wrote a brilliant piece about this for "First Things," he was called on the carpet here and accused of intellectual cowardice, allegedly on the grounds that he just wants to remain "cool" with his colleagues. I suggest that Barr and these others probably know more than their critics here about "random" processes and how they might be placed within a variety of metaphysical schemes (including divine creation with deliberate intent). Perhaps (c) should be given more credence.Ted Davis
June 6, 2016
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Justin @308: Thank you for your very kind and professional comment. A couple of follow-up ideas:
You are correct, I do think “linearly” about these things. I’m conditioned to see cause and effect; time flowing in one direction. Everything I’ve experienced points me to this intuition. My study of revelation and testimony confirms this suspicion. Anything else is thought experiment. Infinity is a thought experiment, but we’ve not encountered it. We can conceive of multiple futures, multiverses, God outside of time, time travel paradoxes; but like infinity, we don’t know if these ideas are real.
That’s fine. The only reason I brought up alternatives is because you were claiming that God does not have the ability to see the future, that he isn’t really omniscient. You might be right, but it is by no means a given, and would certainly fly in the face of most theological thought. Regardless, it doesn’t make any difference for purposes of the key point at issue whether the knowledge comes as a result of great predictive skills or as a result of actually “seeing” the future, being outside-of-time, or otherwise.
I do not deny that God or humans have free will. To the core of my being and understanding, I truly think this is the case. . . . My choices will likely (or in God’s case, “will”) result in a certain outcome depending on my power.
Agreed. And the key is choice, not just power.
Your comment “you seemed to be getting hung up, namely that simply seeing the future means God has no ability to influence it.” is spot on, but I would scratch the word “simply”. There is nothing simple with this concept as we try to apply it to our reality. Our exchange about knowledge/causation has moved me to abandoned the word “knowledge” when thinking about foresight and replace it with the word prediction. Yes this is linear thinking, but it makes sense to me. No one has knowledge of the future; only prediction rooted in power.
Again, you can have your particular viewpoint of deity’s abilities (or lack thereof), and that is fine. As I said earlier, it isn’t necessary to have a particular debate on that point and I don't wish to denigrate anyone's particular views in that regard, because it doesn’t make any difference whether we are talking about predictive knowledge or knowledge from some other source or, for that matter, whether we are talking about limited knowledge or perfect knowledge. The point is that the knowledge is logically and practically separated from the choice. So even if your omnipotent God has great predictive skills about the future and even if he could make a choice to influence some trajectory of events, it does not mean that he inevitably will or did or must make that choice. Surely, as you point out, God has free will. That means he can cause things to happen; it also means he can choose to stay out of the way and let natural events run their course.
PS: Eric, I do truly appreciate our exchange of ideas on this topic. I look forward to future posts that discuss these concepts. I’m sure I will expand and redefine my thoughts.
Thank you for your kind comments. I’ve had a potential head post percolating in my mind as a result of this thread. I’m afraid life will intrude to the point that I won’t have a chance to write it up, but perhaps I can pull something together before too long.Eric Anderson
June 6, 2016
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For some reason people seem stuck on this idea that knowing something = causing it. An easy way to show the difference: If I watch someone light a fuse to a bomb, I know (with great certainty) the bomb is going to go off, but I didn't cause the explosion. If I know all facts, and know that nothing can intervene, then I know with absolute certainty that the bomb is going off even though I didn't cause it.mike1962
June 6, 2016
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Justin @310:
You sound like me saying that God doesn’t (its “impossible”) know the future of a truly contingent event.
No, he isn't saying that. He is saying that knowing the future is not the same as causing it. The same point that has been made all along. If it is a truly contingent event, then the event cannot "guarantee" (StephenB's wording) a particular outcome. It doesn't make a bit of difference whether some allegedly omniscient being knows about it. For some reason people seem stuck on this idea that knowing something = causing it.Eric Anderson
June 6, 2016
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SB@ 304 "No, I say, the only way you can guarantee a seven is to load the dice. You cannot guarantee a seven with fair dice. Thus, it is impossible for God to know that the fair dice can guarantee a seven for the simple reason that fair dice cannot guarantee a seven. God’s omniscience has nothing to do with it." You sound like me saying that God doesn't (its "impossible") know the future of a truly contingent event. But I do think omniscience has everything to do with the matter. Our concept of omniscience is very much part of the discussion. Let's do a thought experiment. If God "sees" that a roll of two fair die hits a five and communicates this fact to a gambler beforehand who makes gobs of money and breaks the casino; is the event (the dice roll) that is about to happen determined or contingent? We can have quite a discussion depending on how you answer that question. Justinjuwilker
June 5, 2016
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VJT @303 Thanks for your comments. A few thoughts:
Regarding knowledge, we have to distinguish between knowledge of an event which is causally (but not necessarily temporally) prior to that event, and knowledge which is causally (but not necessarily temporally)subsequent to the event – or in plain English, between knowledge which arises from determining the event, and knowledge which arises from being determined by it.
No. This is a conflation of definitions. Knowledge before an event does not mean “in plain English” that it is linked to determining the event. In plain English it just means that the knowledge is before the event. The very question at issue is whether knowledge inexorably equals causation. Let's not try to slip it in at the outset by definitional fiat.
We can now address the question: Is it possible for someone to know what an outcome will be and yet for that someone to choose not to do anything about it? If we’re talking about knowledge in the first sense, then someone’s knowledge of a future outcome presupposes that they have already made their choice as to whether or not to intervene in the production of that outcome. In the absence of such a choice, such knowledge would be impossible. Of course, the choice itself is entirely voluntary, but having made it, the agent’s knowledge is set in stone, as it were.
No. Again, the only reason your thinking goes down that path is because you have conflated the concept of knowing before an event with the idea of causing the event. In other words, your first kind of “knowledge” is not really “knowledge” in any normal understandable sense of the word. What you really mean is “causation.” If I cause something, will I know about it? Of course. Assuming I am conscious and aware of what I am doing. But the causal connection does not run the other way. I can easily know something without causing it. It happens all the time, every day.
I think that if evolution is God-guided in such a way as to inevitably produce human beings, then God’s knowledge must be of the former sort: it must determine events in the cosmos – at least, up until the appearance of man.
If I am understanding what you are trying to say, I think I can agree with it as a general matter – again, as long as we clean up the definitions. Specifically, in the case of God-guided evolution, it isn’t God’s knowledge that “determines events in the cosmos” it is his actions that “determine events in the cosmos.” That is the point. Knowledge versus action based on knowledge (or knowledge flowing from the action) are different things. Incidentally, we should point out that the person who is proposing some kind of God-guided evolution that inevitably produces human beings needs to be both intellectually and politically honest and acknowledge loud and clear that they are not talking about “evolution” in the sense that the term is used in schools, in textbooks, in science journals, in the academies. Rather, they are talking about some kind of guiding influence, some front-loading, some intelligent preparation, or some other outside influence. In other words, intelligent design.
God, on the other hand, has total power over the whole of creation, so His knowledge could not be of the sort possessed by scientists. For Him, there are indeed only two ways of knowing contingent events: determining those events or being determined by them.
So you don’t believe that God can see the end from the beginning, as is often claimed in theological circles? He, being omniscient, isn’t capable of that kind of knowledge? Furthermore, by the fact of having power over his creation, he is then stripped of predictive knowledge? That seems rather strange. Perhaps most troubling in this kind of philosophy, God is also personally and inexorably responsible for causing every contingent event in the universe. I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m having a hard time understanding why some can’t separate in their minds the very basic concepts of knowledge and causation. The only reason why your claim about God having some kind of limitation on his knowledge or the alleged causal link with the "first" kind of knowledge you refer to – the only reason this even sounds good on its face at first blush, is because you conflated definitions at the outset – equating, by definition, prior knowledge with causation. Sure, once you conflate definitions that require knowledge to be inexorably linked with causation, then when we examine knowledge in the context of the discussion we will find – ta da! – that knowledge is inexorably linked with causation. But the conflation of definitions fails. There is no inexorable link. Certainly not in our lives in practice or in what we know from the world around us. And there is no logical reason to think there is an inexorable link in the case of some creator, whether omniscient, omnipotent or otherwise. Knowledge of something simply does not equal causation. They are separate concepts that deserve their own treatment and their own meaning.Eric Anderson
June 5, 2016
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EA @ 306 You are correct, I do think “linearly” about these things. I’m conditioned to see cause and effect; time flowing in one direction. Everything I’ve experienced points me to this intuition. My study of revelation and testimony confirms this suspicion. Anything else is thought experiment. Infinity is a thought experiment, but we’ve not encountered it. We can conceive of multiple futures, multiverses, God outside of time, time travel paradoxes; but like infinity, we don’t know if these ideas are real. I think your last statement hit the nail on the head. You are right in that I cannot see how any being can “glimpse” at the future without having either caused that future or abandoned its ability to change it (“encumbered omnipotence” is my phrase for this). And you rightly point out that my way of thinking may not be the way God experiences cause and effect (i.e. He’s not linear, but outside of time). I do not deny that God or humans have free will. To the core of my being and understanding, I truly think this is the case. And I agree that knowledge, or shall I say “prediction”, is associated with the effects of that freewill. My choices will likely (or in God’s case, “will”) result in a certain outcome depending on my power. But from a linear viewpoint, all this knowledge in concert with power/ability happens in real-time- the “present.” I can’t bridge the gap where this knowledge/power combination somehow applies to future states. Your comment “you seemed to be getting hung up, namely that simply seeing the future means God has no ability to influence it.” is spot on, but I would scratch the word “simply”. There is nothing simple with this concept as we try to apply it to our reality. Our exchange about knowledge/causation has moved me to abandoned the word “knowledge” when thinking about foresight and replace it with the word prediction. Yes this is linear thinking, but it makes sense to me. No one has knowledge of the future; only prediction rooted in power. Justin PS: Eric, I do truly appreciate our exchange of ideas on this topic. I look forward to future posts that discuss these concepts. I’m sure I will expand and redefine my thoughts.juwilker
June 5, 2016
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StephenB @304:
I say, the only way you can guarantee a seven is to load the dice. You cannot guarantee a seven with fair dice. Thus, it is impossible for God to know that the fair dice can guarantee a seven for the simple reason that fair dice cannot guarantee a seven. God’s omniscience has nothing to do with it.
Exactly. And with emphasis added.Eric Anderson
June 5, 2016
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Justin @302:
The example you gave about us humans is a description of our power, not our knowledge. Right now, I “see” or have “knowledge” of me taking a vacation to Central America this summer.
Part of the reason I gave that type of example is that you seemed to not adhere to the typical ideas of God’s omniscience, namely, being able to see the end from the beginning. Thus, any knowledge must be dependent, as I said, on “sick predictive skills,” rather than actual ability to see the future. Similarly, since none of us mortals can see the future in a literal outside-of-time sense, the best we can do is rely on our predictive skills and our understanding of cause and effect. Even in that very limited kind of "seeing" the future, which is sufficient for purposes of the present discussion, we can see that knowledge of possible future outcomes does not equal causation, which is why I gave that example.
The realization of these two futures is dependent on my power (power is stronger in the short-term and weaker in the long term), not my knowledge.
How can you have power without knowledge of what that power can do? Yes, if you are causing something to happen then you must have the “power” to cause it to happen. That goes without saying. But it is precisely your knowledge of what can happen, or what will happen, as a result of certain decisions, that allows you to use that power. There are a few series of choices that can be made that will result in you taking a vacation to Central America. There are also many series of choices (nearly infinitely more) that will result in you not taking a vacation to Central America. And you know, within reasonable bounds, that taking certain actions, A, B, C . . . Z will result in you taking a vacation to Central America. But knowing and doing are very different things.
You are positing that there could be multiple futures that God sees. But this is not established. Do we have any evidence of this via experiment, personal revelation, or scriptural revelation?
I am not necessarily proposing it as a definitive answer, just noting that it is one possible approach to the potential false dichotomy on which you seemed to be getting hung up, namely that simply seeing the future means God has no ability to influence it. I’m saying it doesn’t follow. And, even setting aside possible approaches like multiple futures or seeing the end from the beginning, we can see from simple examples in our own lives that the future is not set in stone and that there are different possible outcomes, depending on our choices. And we can know, very concretely and specifically in some cases, what those choices are and what that future will bring (at least to the extent of that limited decision). But such knowledge clearly does not deprive us of the ability to do anything about it, nor does it mean, by force of definition, as some have argued on this thread, that knowledge means causation.
If these futures are live possibilities, and as you say “…if he (God) had wanted to make a different choice, then he could have” –like picking the human D saves human C future — then it is you who gave away the store. God’s choice and knowledge are inseparably tied to the outcome of the event. IOWs, knowledge becomes (or less strongly, “is part of”) causation.
No. The only reason some are going down this rabbit hole is because they are conflating the ability to choose with causation. Or, we could even expand it slightly and say they are conflating (a) knowledge plus the ability to choose, with (b) causation. Again, to cause something to happen is not the same as not intervening. It simply doesn’t follow. And it doesn’t help to say, “Well, God could have done something different; he could have intervened.” Of course he could have. That is precisely the point. He could have, but didn’t. I’ll repeat what I said earlier: the reason we have different words in our language for things like “cause” and “allow” is because they are different concepts. Even if God sees everything – through whatever means we want to posit – before it happens, it does not mean that God is causing it all to happen. Anyone who denies this simple fact is denying both basic linguistic definitions as well as basic logic.
I’m not sure how to respond to the time-travel paradoxes you brought up.
No problem; it’s not a big deal. The only reason I brought it up is because it is essentially similar to the idea you were proposing, namely, that any glimpse of the future must be an inexorable, unequivocal, set-in-stone future that is immutable and impossible to change; that once God glimpses the future, that future is set and therefore, if we track back the reasoning, God can’t do anything about it, because, well, then it wouldn’t have been the future that he glimpsed. I’m simply pointing out that this is a very linear, one-dimensional way of looking at things that (a) may not be what God experiences, and (b) is, even in the small day-to-day examples from our daily life, not necessarily consonant with even our own extremely limited ability to see/understand/predict the future.Eric Anderson
June 5, 2016
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Hi StephenB #304: -------------------- "You cannot guarantee a seven with fair dice." -------------------- True, but God guarantees six as divine law. The crucifixion guarantees the same as His word at Sinai guarantees creation in six days. Heaven and hell is another certainty, being divinely revealed. It is taken for granted the Saviour is totally fair. Darwin believed different. Our belief or lack of, cannot change divine certainty. If God does not tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, such divine law has made an ass, and justice fails. Clearly not the case. Still, how God truly operates (sees and knows) we can only speculate. Who knows, some speculation may hit the mark.mw
June 5, 2016
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VJ, here is an analogy that may help: [a] I load the dice such that the number 7 will appear every time. (specified result) I designed the process so that 7 is guaranteed to appear. It is the only possible outcome because I have closed off all others. If I hadn’t closed them off, I couldn’t guarantee the result. [b] I use fair dice, in which case there are eleven possible outcomes. This is an open ended process that will allow all numbers from 2 to 12, including 7. I cannot guarantee that I will get 7. I may get 7, but it is unlikely. The reason I cannot guarantee that 7 will appear is because the process is opened up so that other numbers can come up as well. Someone questions the point as says, “Wait a minute,” If God knows that seven is going to come up with fair dice, then it will come up. Thus, the open-ended process of fair dice can guarantee a seven because God knows the outcome of all random processes. No, I say, the only way you can guarantee a seven is to load the dice. You cannot guarantee a seven with fair dice. Thus, it is impossible for God to know that the fair dice can guarantee a seven for the simple reason that fair dice cannot guarantee a seven. God’s omniscience has nothing to do with it.StephenB
June 5, 2016
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The discussion between Eric Anderson and juwilker on knowledge and causation has been very interesting. I'd like to make a couple of brief comments. Regarding knowledge, we have to distinguish between knowledge of an event which is causally (but not necessarily temporally) prior to that event, and knowledge which is causally (but not necessarily temporally) subsequent to the event - or in plain English, between knowledge which arises from determining the event, and knowledge which arises from being determined by it. We can now address the question: Is it possible for someone to know what an outcome will be and yet for that someone to choose not to do anything about it? If we're talking about knowledge in the first sense, then someone's knowledge of a future outcome presupposes that they have already made their choice as to whether or not to intervene in the production of that outcome. In the absence of such a choice, such knowledge would be impossible. Of course, the choice itself is entirely voluntary, but having made it, the agent's knowledge is set in stone, as it were. If we're talking about knowledge in the second sense, then the question of doing anything about the outcome does not arise, since the knower derives their knowledge about the outcome from its having taken place. I think that if evolution is God-guided in such a way as to inevitably produce human beings, then God's knowledge must be of the former sort: it must determine events in the cosmos - at least, up until the appearance of man. (With regard to human choices, on the other hand, I would say that God knows them in a Boethian sense, by being timelessly made aware of them.) Are there any possibilities I haven't considered here? Could there be knowledge of an event which is causally independent of that event - i.e. which neither determines the event nor is determined by it? If the event is a contingent one (as opposed to a logical or mathematical truth) then I think those are the only possibilities. What about scientific predictions, then (e.g. of eclipses)? Here, the knowledge we have arises from being acquainted with the causes that determine the event, and assuming a certain fixity of character on their part - in other words, assuming that natural agents will behave as they always have. Strictly speaking, we don't know that for certain, but it's a working assumption that we make in everyday life. And if (as theists believe) these causes are maintained in being by a supernatural agent, then ultimately, what we are assuming when we make predictions about everyday events is that the will of God is fixed. But of course, we don't know that. Another thing that needs to be borne in mind is that when scientists predict events like eclipses, they do so as detached spectators who have no power of their own to influence the events in question. We can't perceptibly change the movements of the sun, earth and the moon (at least, not yet). God, on the other hand, has total power over the whole of creation, so His knowledge could not be of the sort possessed by scientists. For Him, there are indeed only two ways of knowing contingent events: determining those events or being determined by them. My two cents.vjtorley
June 4, 2016
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EA @ 294 Eric, I do not think you are being too harsh or critical. These exchanges are the kind that I like. A back and forth that helps lead to greater understanding. And I do value your reasoned comments. I do think you have a much greater grasp of logic than I do. I’m more of a shoot from the hip type of person. You mentioned that you didn’t want to get into a debate about one’s perceptions of God, but would rather focus more on science and logic (my interpretation of what you are saying). But I think the TE debate most critically depends on one’s conception of God. Words like front loading, the “omni’s”, deistic, mental/spiritual/physical as they are applied in the TE debate and analysis flow from one’s conception of God. They can’t be analyzed separately. That’s why the self-imposed MN rule of no “supernatural” (which has a variety of meanings depending on your worldview); pretending that one can parse an inquiry of truth into little boxes--- is ultimately futile. The study of origins is inherently a study of “science” (as currently defined), philosophy, theology, and even sociology. One’s view of God is key in studying/debating TE. You asked at the end of the post why I prefer to jettison omniscience instead of omnipotence. I’ll answer by responding to your paragraph using human analogy. Because humans can somewhat see their own differing future states, you imply that perhaps God can also see multiple future states. The example you gave about us humans is a description of our power, not our knowledge. Right now, I “see” or have “knowledge” of me taking a vacation to Central America this summer. I also “see” that I will be eating a turkey and avocado sandwich in the next ½ hour. The realization of these two futures is dependent on my power (power is stronger in the short-term and weaker in the long term), not my knowledge. Possibilities realized of getting to Central America this summer depend on power. My son’s friend who would like to go to Central America this summer might have 10% chance of getting there. Me? -70%; a Central American diplomat stationed in Los Angeles planning to go home this summer?-95%, God?- 100%. Future outcomes depend on power/potency, not knowledge. You are positing that there could be multiple futures that God sees. But this is not established. Do we have any evidence of this via experiment, personal revelation, or scriptural revelation? In my studies I’ve seen more evidence for God’s power explaining future events rather than His knowledge. But let’s assume, arguendo, that there are multiple futures. If so, then God’s knowledge is inseparably intertwined with causation. Let’s go back the scenario where human B kills human C in five minutes. Perhaps God sees several states: human B attempts, but fails to kill human C; B maims C; B struggles with C who overpowers B and B gets killed; human D interferes and stops B; etc. etc. If these futures are live possibilities, and as you say “…if he (God) had wanted to make a different choice, then he could have” --like picking the human D saves human C future -- then it is you who gave away the store. God’s choice and knowledge are inseparably tied to the outcome of the event. IOWs, knowledge becomes (or less strongly, “is part of”) causation. I do agree with you that knowing that something is happenING is different from causing. But we have not established that this concept applies to future states. I don’t know how to “simply make the event contemporaneous” for the issue at hand. That doesn’t help me understand because I can’t conceive of everything--past, present, future-- as happening all at once. I’m not sure how to respond to the time-travel paradoxes you brought up. I’ve not thought about them too much. They are more in the realm of science fiction, kind of like the multiverse ideas. I’m not saying they are not valuable to ponder, but I’m more interested in exploring what I’m personally experiencing. I want (I’m choosing, smile) to be more evidence-based as I approach the origins debate. And evidence includes experiment, personal revelation (I guess thought experiments could be included here), spiritual revelation, scriptural revelation – in fact, ANY revelation that might help us understand the Truth. Justinjuwilker
June 4, 2016
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